And it came to pass after three days, that the officers went through the host;…
We are entering now on a new year, and going up into new time territory. "We have not passed this way heretofore." And it becomes us to be more than usually solicitous to know the way by which we are led, and the whole will of God concerning us in the leading. It may be well, however, to take heed that an unprofitable curiosity does not usurp the place of a wholesome solicitude. It is as true now as it was when our Lord spoke the words, that "times and seasons," eras and epochs, are put in God's own power. Enough is revealed for the direction of practical conduct. Enough is conceded for the nourishment of childlike faith. We feel, then, as we stand on the margin of the year, at the portal of its days, that there can be no rehearsal in our knowledge of its coming events, either those of public importance or those of our individual lives. We know not what it is to bring forth; but we know well that it will bring forth something, and that that something will in all probability be important. When we know the parents, we can guess what the children will be. This year is the child of all the years, and especially of the last years that have sped. "We have not passed this way heretofore." The vista of the bygone years was never so long as it is to-day. Time never carried such a burden of events on his shoulders. History never held in her bosom so many mysteries not yet solved, so many explanations not yet given, so many germs for future flowering. God has never had so much on hand in the earth. In such a time, with what emphasis come the Saviour's words to us: "Watch: what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch"! "We have not passed this way heretofore." We may be going to pass a Jordan of our own in more respects than one. Nothing is more certain than that we are now in the very process of a great social revolution, affecting not merely this or that separate sphere or relation in human affairs, but touching the very basis of society, and all the laws under which men live. That we need a revival is certain. It is equally certain that we may have it for the asking. No doubt many are asking for it, unknown to us; and the thing asked for (God grant it) may be on its way! But we discontinue this strain of supposition, again reminding you that this year we are not far from Jordan, and that, in more senses than one, we may soon be crossing it. We are somewhere in the great army which is marching onwards, and not only ought we to be conscious of our own progress, but wisely observant of the changes that are going on around us. The times themselves are "put in God's own power." The "signs" of the times are held out for our instruction, that we may, in a measure, know what God is doing and what we ourselves ought to do. But it will be well to make a much narrower and more personal application of this principle. We, as individuals, we, as we now are, have not passed by any way at all. We have been journeying for years, but always changing; so that now, while the same in personal identity, we are yet morally and circumstantially different. Our letters come under the same address, but they are opened and read by men not quite the same. We have not sub-let our house, and yet the occupant is different. It is a strange, subtle process of change which is thus going on; but it is as certain and as resistless as the flow of time itself. Keeping, then, in view these two things — the outward and the inward change — both of which are sure to go on during the coming year, I would venture to utter some appropriate watchwords for the year "notes" of the life we must aim to live as the days go by.
1. Vigilance. Have the senses well exercised and ready for quick and true discernment of men and things. Without something of this sleepless vigilance, without the "inevitable eye," we shall lose much of what is in the year, and in the year for us. We are travellers. But the time that carries us forward is not like an old stage-coach that goes lumbering along the same road by which it has run for many years, the passengers by which can tell exactly what objects and scenes lie along the line and will come into sight at a particular part of the road and time of the day. We ascend the chariot of the year, and it rolls where never chariot-wheels have left mark before, where scenes which have never been revealed to man or angel, or the actual sight of God, will unfold themselves. No one can tell how much we may miss by being asleep or only half-awake.
2. Promptitude. We watch for occasions, that we may seize them; for opportunities, that we may improve them; for friendly influences, that we may yield to them; for adverse powers, that we may resist them; for the morning, that we may answer "girded!" to its labour-call; for the evening, that we may enter within the shadow of its rest; for temptation, that we may vanquish or flee from it; for privilege, that we may embrace it; for the hour of prayer, that we may pray; for God in His manifold revealings and comings to us, that we may receive Him as our God, and that we may give ourselves to Him more than "heretofore."
3. Courage will often be needed to do what the hand finds to do. The possession and cultivation of moral courage, therefore, is another very necessary preparation for this way that we have not passed heretofore. We know not what any day of the year may bring forth; but we know, just as well as we know that the days are coming, that, if we live to pass through them, we shall need to be morally brave, or fail. We know that the craven spirit, with which, alas! we are so ready to purchase a momentary ease, will cover us with shame, and bring defeat and dishonour quickly after us as pursuers, and that boldness and confidence will carry us through.
4. Gentleness is a good word to put under the shelter of courage, and a good thing to put among the preparations for the unknown year. We are not really fitted, in the fullest sense, for the journey of a year, unless we are full of tenderness, unless we are full of tears. The children will be around us wherever we are; for, like the daisies, like the sparrows, they are everywhere. The young will be rising into manhood and womanhood, and some of them will be looking Zionwards and sensitively watching to see if there be any who understand their look, so as to look back and help and welcome them. The sick will be suffering through their weary days and nights; and the poor will be struggling; and those who have seen better days will be coming down the hill in our sight, bearing themselves with dignity as in the former time, although now the wardrobe is but poorly filled, and the table scantily spread; and the sensitive will be shrinking, and the miserable will be praying; the hopeless wondering if any help will come to them. What a world to live in! and what need for a pitiful gentleness! Walk softly, then, and have a care!
5. We should be poorly furnished for the way we have not been heretofore, without filial confidence, which will easily, when occasion comes, pass into resignation. There will be much to try faith and patience, and love and loyalty. God knows all; there is but one way for us — to trust Him with a deep, filial trust, with a love that will east out all fear, and to resign ourselves utterly, and in everything, to His most holy will.
6. For, whatever comes, there will always be, not only need and occasion, but ground and reason, for serene, invincible hopefulness. Good is better and stronger than evil. Greater is the world above than the world below I Greater is life than death. Greater is this year than any of its predecessors (whatever may be its particular events), as being nearer the end, when "life and immortality," in the heavenly sense, shall "be brought to light."
(A. Raleigh, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And it came to pass after three days, that the officers went through the host;